I’m seemingly reading an article every week about the benefits of Tabata training, or HIIT, especially when checking out the tweets of @HealthHabits. Here are a few links that I have ran across:
You Don’t Know HIIT
HIIT is your best choice for burning off Belly Fat
10 more reasons to love High Intensity Interval Training
HIIT v.s. Type 2 Diabetes
Take a look at the laundry list of benefits from the 10 reasons post by Health Habits:
- HIIT was better than the standard multidisciplinary approach (exercise, diet and psychological support) at helping overweight kids reduce their cardiovascular risk factors. Here’s the study
- HIIT can prevent cardiac death in type 2 diabetic individuals. Here’s the study
- HIIT should be a required treatment for all Metabolic Syndrome patients. 16 weeks of HIIT training significantly reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease, in terms of improved VO2max, endothelial function, blood pressure, insulin signaling, and plasma lipid composition. Here’s the study
- HIIT substantially improves insulin action. Say bye-bye to type 2 diabetes & metabolic syndrome. Here’s the study
- HIIT increases levels of HDL cholesterol – that’s the good cholesterol. Here’s the study
- HIIT improves the HRR (Heart Rate Recovery – a measure of how quickly your heart returns to normal post-exercise)) in already well-trained cyclists. Here’s the study
- HIIT drastically improves cardiovascular function (V02max) in patients with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) Here’s the study
- Interval training produced a 302% greater increase inV02max when compared to a long, slow distance training protocol. Here’s the study
- HIIT significantly improved the aerobic fitness of a group of prepubescent children (aerobic fitness measured by peak oxygen consumption Here’s the study
- HIIT improves the erectile function of hypertension patients Here’s the study fellas
What’s not to like?
Moving on to Intermittent Fasting (IF), Martin Berkhan has an informative site, Leangains, where much of the success of his program he attributes to IF.
Here are a few of his posts on IF:
Intermittent Fasting For Weight Loss Preserves Muscle Mass?
Fasted Training Boosts Muscle Growth?
Brief Summary of Popular Approaches to Intermittent Fasting
Dr. Eades also wrote a two part post on Tim Ferriss’ blog:
Real Life Extension: Caloric Restriction or Intermittent Fasting (Part 1)
Real Life Extension: Caloric Restriction or Intermittent Fasting (Part 2)
From Eades in Part 1:
Intermittent fasting (IF) reduced oxidative stress, made the animals more resistant to acute stress in general, reduced blood pressure, reduced blood sugar, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced the incidence of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and improved cognitive ability. But IF did even more. Animals that were intermittently fasted greatly increased the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) relative to CR animals. CR animals don’t produce much more BDNF than do ad libitum fed animals.
Eades concludes in Part 2:
It’s looking like the intermittent fast is another of those ideas in science that looks good in animal studies then not so good in human studies, proving once again that rats and mice aren’t simply furry little humans. And it appears – for humans, at least – that the intermittent fast is indeed beginning to look like the reality of a late-night gimmicky infomercial: long on promises, short on delivery. I suspect that it is also a cautionary tale about the applicability of caloric restriction studies to humans.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s the way science sometimes works. Lab results and reality are often two different animals.
Then there is Body by Science (by Doug McGuff), Slow Burn Training (by Fred Hahn), and High Intensity Training (The HIT FAQ has been around for quite a while) and you could argue that HIT can trace its origins back to the 6th century BC and Milo of Croton:
Legends say he carried his own bronze statue to its place at Olympia, and once carried a four-year-old bull on his shoulders before slaughtering, roasting, and devouring it in one day. He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting the bull by starting in childhood, lifting and carrying a newborn calf and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity. (Wikipedia)
Milo was using the principles of progressive overload training, which is essentially the foundation of any HIT program. You need to put the muscle under enough load that it induces a compensatory response that ultimately builds more muscle.
If you read Body by Science, the author claims that you can achieve the following in 12 minutes a week:
- Build muscle size and strength
- Optimize cardiovascular health
- Ramp up your metabolism
- Lower cholesterol
- Increase insulin sensitivity
- Improve flexibility
- Manage arthritis and chronic back pain
- Build bone density
- Reduce your risk for diabetes, cancer, heart attack, and more
I don’t think it would be a misrepresentation to say Slow Burn Training with Fred Hahn seems to incorporate many of the same principles as Body by Science with Doug McGuff. Mr. Hahn included Body By Science and a book by Matt Bryzcki - who had a big hand in the HIT FAQ - in his top ten strength training books.
Admittedly, I tend to gravitate toward these things because of the purported changes they can induce in the interior milieu.
You are not what you eat, you are what you do with what you eat.
With exercise, it’s not so much about what we do or how much we do it, it’s about how our body responds to the stimulus it is given that we should care about.
So I was listening to a podcast by Jimmy Moore called Low Carb Conversations (you down with LCC?) with Tom Naughton as a guest, who started talking about advice given to people who are going through a weight loss stall while dieting or on a low-carb diet.
Tom had some great points to make (paraphrasing a bit):
Naughton: You become fat for a biochemical reason. And right now, you are as fat as you biologically need to be.
Because of the hormone balance [or imbalance, short-term leading to long-term], you are as fat as you need to be to allow the body to supply itself with fatty acids.
You can continue doing things with your diet, maybe with some HIIT, [or HIT] maybe with IF, but all those things are going to accomplish is to change your biochemistry in such a way that your body is willing to live with less body fat.
When I thought about what Tom was saying, I thought about it in this context: even engaging in HIT, HIIT, and IF is trying to consciously manage our weight, so long as we essentially have to keep these things up in perpetuity in order for them to have lasting effect.
They induce internal changes, but they are fleeting if we don’t continue to get to the weight room and overload our muscles, or sprint in between telephone poles for the rest of our lives. Perhaps our ancestors didn’t have “conscious control” over these behaviors; maybe they had to run from a predator or two, or chase down their dinner, and they had to ‘lift things up and put them down’ out of necessity, but having to rely less on these forms of movement and eating patterns most likely has next to nothing to do with why we get fat as a species.
The key is almost assuredly diet - and you could argue that we need to consciously control what we put into our shopping carts in modern times - however, after this decision is made and we choose to eat only protein and fat from unadulterated, naturally-occurring animals for example, our weight should settle to a relatively healthy level (if we have no underlying metabolic, hormonal, enzymatic, etc. damage) unconsciously.
We don't need to consciously eat more or less. We don't need to consciously move more or less. The quality of the food will dictate our normality. Not quantity. Quantity is a side-effect of quality. We eat less and move more because we're getting leaner, not the other way around.
As you move farther back in time, it becomes progressively more difficult to make the argument that we had conscious control over what we ate. We ate what was available, and while this doesn't imply that whatever was available was necessarily good for us, it does suggest that if the overwhelming majority of the population did not get fat and sick, the quality of the diet probably played the starring role in the health of most societies.
Animals in the wild don't seem to become chronically fat until they eat food they are not accustomed to and almost assuredly not well-adapted to eat. There was a recent article discussing captive gorillas succumbing to human diseases of civilization, notably obesity and heart disease. What happened when the gorillas were taken off of their captive diet of “high vitamin, high sugar, and high starch foods to make sure they got all their nutrients.” Can you say iatrogenic? What happens when you provide an environment for gorillas in which they can only access the foods they presumably could in the wild?
Going back to this natural diet has changed gorilla behavior. Before, gorillas only ate during a quarter of their day because the food was so packed with nutrients. Now at Cleveland, they spend 50-60 percent of their day eating which is the same amount as in the wild. With all this extra eating, the gorillas have doubled their caloric intake, yet at the same time have dropped 65 pounds each. This brings their weight more in line with their wild relatives.
Getting back to HIIT, HIT, and IF, it's not likely that these were the determining factors for preventing or acquiring obesity and western disease if they needed to be under our conscious control. They still may be useful, where you could make the argument that sprinting every once in a while, walking often, missing a few meals here and there are a big part of our history and part of what makes us human. This is Sissonian philosophy at its finest and it’s probably not a bad idea to emulate this.
Now back to Mr. Naughton:
Naughton: All of us are going to hit a certain level of body fat that our bodies do not want to drop below. If that happens to be 20% body fat and you just can't get below it, then focus on the improvements that you've already made, focus on how much better you feel, but understand that depending upon how much metabolic damage you've already done, you may never get to the level of leanness that you had when you were 20. It just might not happen.
As I’ve heard Gary Taubes say: a restricted-carbohydrate diet will help you get to
the leanest you can naturally be, but the leanest you can be may not necessarily be lean.
I want to point out that it's not necessarily phrased in the right context that your body doesn't want you to be leaner than 20%, where the implication is that we seem to be fighting our bodies (and when people invoke 'set point,' the implication is that we're fighting our brain), rather this is where our body fat "settles" at when we have our ducks in a row to the best of our ability, i.e., a good diet, HIIT, HIT, and IF and it settles where it settles. We most likely have a settling point, not a set point.
The way our settling point would lower is to help remove whatever is damming up the system. Might be that insulin is overly secreted and we can't get it in check with
conventional means, or that we’re resistant to insulin, or it could be another factor or force within that is contributing to the lake overflowing, or in the case of humans, over-sized and/or over-numbered, fat cells.
This is what many people in the CrossFit community, and the bodybuilding community come to grips with when they may settle at 14% body fat, and then they train regularly and settle around 10% (so long as they continue their regimen) and then they come to guys like me, but more often and recognizably to someone like Robb Wolf and say "how
do I lean-out?" and the morbidly obese person might overhear the conversation and will think this person must be on drugs or has an eating disorder. They might be right.
Now the 10% dude starts focusing on getting more sleep, getting more sunshine, doing heavier lifting and lower intensity workouts and restricting calories and their body fat may settle around 6%.
So they remain at 6%, and their body fat settles at this level, which means the competition of forces leads to a fat mass that comprises 6% of this person's total body weight. They are dispensing every conscious and unconscious weapon they can think of to try and keep their fat mass down.
It’s as if he’s bailing out a leak in a boat and he has found a strategy where he can stay afloat (in this case 6% body fat is his buoyancy) as long as he keeps churning.
But once some of the forces are removed, for example, no more weight lifting sessions, the fat may settle at a different level. And say he decides to start drinking 3 Big Gulps a day along with a cavalcade of sugar and refined-carbohydrate-laden foods, and he becomes hyperinsulinemic. This is an added force on the system and is likely to change where his fat mass settles.
With IF as a strategy for weight loss, it may not be a stretch that it is similar to caloric restriction (CR) in that both will have to be theoretically implemented for life in order to maintain the change induced by the strategy.
But the same can be said of a low-carb or Paleo diet; these things need to be maintained in order to maintain the effects they are having on (and in) the body. In the modern world, we need to consciously avoid carbohydrates at every turn if we're on a low-carbohydrate diet and we have to avoid about 85% of the offerings in a typical grocery store if we're eating Paleo (or low-carb). The percentage of food that we shouldn't be eating in a grocery store might be the same number as the prevalence of obesity (last time I checked it was hovering around 70%). But if we can navigate past the soda, sweets, and snacks aisle, and fuel our bodies with the appropriate foods, consciousness has nothing to do with why we get fat.
This also makes any recommendation to go on a low-carb diet for weight loss, and then once you reach a desirable weight, go ahead and revert back to the Standard American Diet (SAD) - but be sure to practice calorie balance! - patently absurd.
Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can tell his office colleagues or park bench neighbors the latest on reducing diets. More than in any other illness, the physician is called upon only to do a special trick, to make the patient do something—stop eating—after it has already been proved that he cannot do it. -Hilde Bruch, The Importance of Overweight
And one distinction that should be made between IF and CR is that many of the purported benefits of IF are not from a reduction in calories, whereas CR implies that you are going to have to go starving on some level for the rest of your life to maintain the benefits of CR.
Even those people who are properly informed and anxious to exercise voluntary control, frequently fail in the prevention of overweight. Evidently, it is not an easy matter continuously to overrule persistent impulses. Unfortunately we cannot in most cases correct these impulses by attacking their source, namely, the anomaly of the regulatory mechanism; and so long as man has to rely on his will power to suppress persistent impulses, prevention of obesity will remain a relatively rare accomplishment. -Hugo Rony, Obesity and Leanness